Skill Level Beginner
- I started teaching product management over four years ago. I remember spending tons of hours on my instructional materials, and making diligent notes on what I'd say during class. I was so concerned with making sure every student would understand it and learn something. One night after a really great class, I wondered to myself, even if every student walks away learning something, are we guaranteeing they'll be successful product managers? Well, one thing was for sure, they'd definitely be better equipped to get their first job. And that's a huge step. But what would make them truly effective? My first thought was, more experience would make them stand out.
But as I thought more about some of the great product leaders I've seen and worked with, I realized years of experience didn't always coincide with how exceptional they were in the role. I just had a gut feeling about some of my students, that they had the right stuff, so to speak, to do really well. It really got me thinking about what it takes to make product managers so exceptional. What I've since discovered is that more than anything, product management is a mindset. It's a mindset that some people have innately, and some just need to work at.
The actual mindset is the end result of putting it all together and making it a second nature to step back and always ask why. In short, it's constant curiosity and skepticism. The first part, curiosity about products, is just being highly interested in every product or purchase they make in every day life. Why they picked a specific pair of shoes, why they like a certain brand over another, or why their eyes might be drawn to a specific product on the supermarket shelves. The second part, skepticism and stepping back, is exactly what it sounds like.
Given the situation at work, or in daily life, with choices A and B, these are the types of people that first ask, why is A a choice, and why is B a choice? Then they love coming back with, how about this new, better choice I came up with, called C, that solves both issues? In the world of product development, it's common knowledge that just developing whatever feature users ask for in the highest volume is not always the right choice. After all, remember that famous quote, supposedly from Henry Ford: If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, faster horses.
It follows then, that you need the ability to effectively analyze the circumstance and set of choices as a product manager, ultimately coming out with the best option. However, I find that the most naturally talented Pms are doing this, not only at work, but it's so ingrained in them that they're doing it everywhere all the time. Given the number of decisions the PM role involves every day, people that have ingrained this type of thinking into their every day life have the right mindset to be amazingly effective product leaders at every stage in their career.